Why Active Women Need CreatineApr 28, 2023
It might be the most important supplement many women still aren’t taking.
There are few supplements I recommend across the board. Creatine is one of them. A growing body of research shows it can help increase strength, power, and athletic performance in females, and it’s also good for your brain health and maybe even your mood.
Yet, many women I talk to still don’t think creatine is for them because they don't want to become big and “bulky” like a bodybuilder. Or they’ve heard it causes bloating (and, to be fair, nobody wants bloating). I’m here to assuage those concerns. You can get strong without being “bulky,” and you can take creatine and get the benefits without the bloat. But first, let’s take a look at those benefits.
Creatine for Strength and Performance
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance found in your muscle cells that helps them produce energy during high-intensity exercise and heavy lifting.
Your body stashes creatine in your muscles in a form called creatine phosphate or phosphocreatine (PCr). When you need to generate extra force like for that deadlift PR or high-intensity sprint, your body separates the phosphate molecule from the rest of the compound, which it uses to create a muscle-powering energy molecule known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Research shows creatine supplementation is most effective for those high-intensity, short-duration, or repeated bouts of high-intensity exercise with short rest periods like hill repeats, resistance training, and plyometric work. Phosphocreatine also buffers the hydrogen ions that accumulate during high-intensity exercise, which cause your muscles to burn and fatigue, so it may delay that point where you feel like you have to dial it back. Having ample intramuscular stores means you can train more intensely and enjoy greater strength, power, and speed gains from your workouts.
For females, supplementing may be the best way to ensure those creatine stores are well stockpiled. Ninety-five percent of all creatine is stored in your skeletal muscles, and you can bump up those creatine reserves by about 20 percent with supplementation. Women naturally have 70 to 80 percent lower creatine stores than men and we typically consume significantly lower amounts of dietary creatine, which comes primarily from animal foods like beef, compared to men.
A 2021 review of the literature published in Nutrients reported that “creatine supplementation may be of particular importance during menses, pregnancy, post-partum, during and post-menopause” (which is essentially a woman’s whole life!) and that “females with varying levels of training and fitness may experience improvements in both anaerobic and aerobic exercise performance from both short-term and long-term creatine supplementation.”
Another study published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal found that females had greater relative performance improvements over males, with males experiencing about a 6 percent increase in performance and females enjoying a 15 percent increase in performance—more than double the benefit.
Creatine for Brain Benefits
That 2021 study published in Nutrients also reported that creatine might have positive effects on mood and cognition and maybe even more effective for females by supporting brain health, and is especially useful for menopausal women who are more susceptible to increased inflammation.
The review also included depression research, indicating that women with a major depressive disorder who augmented their daily antidepressant with 5g of creatine responded twice as fast and experienced remission of depression at twice the rate of women who just took the antidepressant.
It can also be helpful for mood swings during the menstrual cycle. With the increase of estrogen and progesterone in the luteal phase, your body needs more creatine to help with hormone-mediated neurotransmitter changes, which affect your mood. Supplementing with creatine can help support those needs.
There is a position stand by the International Society of Sports Nutrition titled Safety and Efficacy of Creatine Supplementation in Exercise, Sport, and Medicine that is worth a look.
How to Supplement Creatine
Together, your liver, pancreas, and kidneys naturally produce about 1 gram of creatine per day. Your body uses about 2 grams a day. You have to make up the difference by either eating more animal proteins like red meat and seafood or getting it through supplementation with creatine, specifically creatine monohydrate, which is the most effective. Look for CreaPure, like in the Momentous creatine products, as it is tested for banned substances, is vegan, and is one of the most studied products on the market.
Creatine powder is tasteless, odorless, and not expensive. You can mix it in your smoothie, oatmeal, or recovery drink and won’t even notice it. Traditionally, athletes supplementing with creatine would go through a loading phase of taking ~20g/day for 6 days. This strategy has been associated with early stage water retention (the first 3 days), but lower doses (2-5g/day) over time do not show changes in total body mass, just shifts in fluid distribution.
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